Hearing this, Tess felt so sick at heart that she could not decide to go home publicly in the fly with her luggage and belongings. She asked the turnpike-keeper if she might deposit her things at his house for a while, and, on his offering no objection, she dismissed her carriage, and went on to the village alone by a back lane.
At sight of her father’s chimney she asked herself how she could possibly enter the house? Inside that cottage her relations were calmly supposing her far away on a wedding-tour with a comparatively rich man, who was to conduct her to bouncing prosperity; while here she was, friendless, creeping up to the old door quite by herself, with no better place to go to in the world.
She did not reach the house unobserved. Just by the garden-hedge she was met by a girl who knew her—one of the two or three with whom she had been intimate at school. After making a few inquiries as to how Tess came there, her friend, unheeding her tragic look, interrupted with—
“But where’s thy gentleman, Tess?”
Tess hastily explained that he had been called away on business, and, leaving her interlocutor, clambered over the garden-hedge, and thus made her way to the house.
As she went up the garden-path she heard her mother singing by the back door, coming in sight of which she perceived Mrs Durbeyfield on the doorstep in the act of wringing a sheet. Having performed this without observing Tess, she went indoors, and her daughter followed her.
The washing-tub stood in the same old place on the same old quarter-hogshead, and her mother, having thrown the sheet aside, was about to plunge her arms in anew.
“Why—Tess!—my chil’—I thought you was married!—married really and truly this time—we sent the cider—”
“Yes, mother; so I am.”
“Going to be?”
“No—I am married.”
“Married! Then where’s thy husband?”
“Oh, he’s gone away for a time.”
“Gone away! When was you married, then? The day you said?”
“Yes, Tuesday, mother.”
“And now ’tis on’y Saturday, and he gone away?”
“Yes, he’s gone.”
“What’s the meaning o’ that? ’Nation seize such husbands as you seem to get, say I!”
“Mother!” Tess went across to Joan Durbeyfield, laid her face upon the matron’s bosom, and burst into sobs. “I don’t know how to tell ’ee, mother! You said to me, and wrote to me, that I was not to tell him. But I did tell him—I couldn’t help it—and he went away!”
“O you little fool—you little fool!” burst out Mrs Durbeyfield, splashing Tess and herself in her agitation. “My good God! that ever I should ha’ lived to say it, but I say it again, you little fool!”
Tess was convulsed with weeping, the tension of so many days having relaxed at last.
“I know it—I know—I know!” she gasped through her sobs. “But, O my mother, I could not help it! He was so good—and I felt the wickedness of trying to blind him as to what had happened! If—if—it were to be done again—I should do the same. I could not—I dared not—so sin—against him!”